Miguel Indurain Retires - Part 1

Five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain announced his retirement on Thursday 2/1/97

The 32-year-old's failure to make it six Tour wins in a row last year, sparked off rumours of a possible retirement and when he failed to find a team willing to pay him eight million dollars for the 1997 season his fate was sealed.

"It was a difficult decision to take. I am now going to concentrate on other things," said Indurain.

Miguel Indurain's farewell to the professional cycling tour here on Thursday leaves a huge gap that will not be easily filled, nowhere more so than on the Tour de France a race he dominated for five years.

His five successive wins (1991-95) makes him one of the greatest cyclists to have graced the stage but whether he was the greatest is a debatable point.

Now that he has retired to spend more time on his family's farm and with his son Miguel junior the cycling historians will have a fun time assessing his place among the Pantheon of great riders.

Certainly he was leagues ahead of any of his contemporaries, even Stephen Roche, who accomplished something the Spaniard never did by winning the Tours of Italy, Spain, France and the World Championship in the same year, but traditionalists will point to the other five-time winners Bernard Hinault and Jaques Anquetil of France and Belgian Eddie Mercx.

All three, although they never won five in a row, won a lot more stages in the Tour de France and claimed other major Tours -- while 'Big Mig' as he was affectionately known contented himself with time-trial wins in the Tour de France and did just enough to retain his advantage throughout the race.

Certainly Hinault and Mercx came closer to Indurain to winning a record sixth Tour.

Mercx finished second, 2 minutes and 47 seconds in arrears, to Bernard Thevenet in 1975 and Hinault, nicknamed the 'Badger', was also runner-up in 1986 to Greg Lemond, over three minutes behind.

Indurain, 32, was different to Mercx in several respects, not least that he based his whole season on preparing for the one race -- the greatest tour of them all.

Mercx, named by his rivals as the 'Cannibal', raced to win all season and in 1973 won three of the major tours, Italy, Spain and France. In 1974 he became the first man to win the Tour of Italy, the Tour de France and the world championship in the same year.

Indurain has twice won the Tour of Italy in the same year as he won the Tour de France (1992/93) but as he got older he preferred to race in smaller races such as the Midi Libre and the Dauphine, gaining morale-boosting points over his potential rivals.

He never won a one day classic race although he did win the World and Olympic time-trial titles, and a runners-up spot in the 1991 Tour of Spain was his best result in his home Tour.

Indurain, a farmer's son from Pamplona in the Basque country, is not embarrassed by the fact he only chose to pursue the Tour de France.

"For any professional cyclist winning the Tour is the pinnacle of their career, whereas winning the Olympic title is purely symbolic," he said.

It was ironic that the only title he won in 1996 was the Olympic time-trial in Atlanta, as he floundered on the climb to Les Arcs, the first major stage of the Tour de France, and looked a shadow of the imposing figure that he had been in the previous five years.

Indeed it was the day that Indurain's psychological hold over the peloton and the race slipped for good -- the crown being picked up by several pretenders before Bjarne Riis, so often the bridesmaid, seized control and won in great style.

The Dauphine race this year was a perfect example of Indurain's pre-Tour tactics. Main rival Laurent Jalabert held the overall lead for much of the race and, with compatriot Richard Virenque, beat the 'old timers' Indurain and Tony Rominger in the Alpine stages.

Indurain piled on the pressure when it was most needed and an exhausted Jalabert retired on the last stage, to give Indurain his second successive Dauphine.

Indurain has been criticised in the past for not being adventurous during the Tour, preferring to sit back after winning the time-trials and letting the others snatch stage victories as a consolation.

Last year he showed though, that he was capable of attacking and running down his main opponents, this probably because his Banesto teammates were not capable of providing him with the necessary support.

Indurain, though, was dismissive of those who criticised his lack of flair.

"I rode to win the Tour in the style I thought was best. I am not a dreamer. It is the course that counts each day and the word flair is used by those who have never ridden in the peloton," Indurain said.

In past years the man from Navarre, who prefers to spend his spare time tilling the family's farmland, had been able to count on able lieutenants like Pedro Delgado, whom he had helped win the Tour, and Jean Francois Bernard keeping him within striking distance of the leaders.

However, in 1996 the team was incapable of helping him when he was in trouble and it was a sign of the waning powers of the man that he could not react as solidly as he had in the past -- in short Banesto had scrimped and saved too much on the support players in the belief that their main player was unbeatable only to receive a rude shock when the first bit of pressure was imposed.

It was noticeable that the man who broke Indurain on the climb to Les Arcs was Aitor Garmendia, riding for Banesto's great rivals ONCE but who had been released by Banesto the previous season -- a jarring reminder to Indurain of the good riders who had been let go.

Indurain was a man of many qualities, popular among the peloton and selfless as he showed when he held the world championship field back in Colombia in 1995, giving compatriot Abraham Olano the opportunity to seize the road race championship -- a prize that Indurain had openly said he desired more than anything else.

His retirement leaves a gap but also some great memories and perhaps his greatest legacy was his sportsmanship and unwillingness to rub his opponenets into the ground. He may not have been the greatest of all time but he was far too good for those he raced against and that was as much that one could have asked of him.

Cycling will be a far poorer place without him.

Indurain quits cycling

Five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain of Spain announced his retirement here on Thursday.

The 32-year-old's failure to make it a unique six Tour wins in a row last year sparked off rumours of a possible retirement and when he failed to find a team willing to pay him eight million dollars for the 1997 season his fate was sealed.

"It was a difficult decision to take. I am now going to concentrate on other things," said Indurain.

"I feel I have concentrated enough of my time on professional cycling and now I want to enjoy the sport as an amateur," he added.

Indurain said it had taken him three months to make a final decision about his future.

"It was made even more difficult by the fact that I feel in perfect physical shape and am convinced that I could win a sixth Tour de France," said the cyclist, whose contract with Banesto ended on December 31.

Both Banesto and ONCE were keen to sign the Spaniard for this season but neither were prepared to match his multi-million dollar demand.

Indurain's biggest success last season was to take the gold in the Olympic time-trial but he made no secret that it did not compare to winning the Tour de France.

"For any professional cyclist winning the Tour is the pinnacle of their career, whereas winning the Olympic title is purely symbolic," he said.

Immediately after his retirement announcement, Jean-Marie Leblanc, director of the Tour de France, described Indurain as one of the greatest champions in the Tour's history.

"He was a perfect gentleman. Always approachable, always willing to sign autographs. He was a great ambassador for the sport," said Leblanc.

Banesto sports director Jose Miguel Echavarri was also quick to praise Indurain.

"Never has Spain had such a great champion. All of Spain is sad," said Echavarri.

Five-times Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain retires from professional cycling.

``I'm going to retire from professional cycling,'' the Spaniard told journalists in his home town of Pamplona.

Indurain, who failed to win a sixth consecutive Tour last year and who had to pull out of the Spanish Vuelta, had been debating for some time whether to continue with the sport.

Indurain's contract with the Banesto team expired at the end of 1996.

``In the early months of this season I started to turn over the idea that in 1997 the time had come to give it up and to dedicate myself to the other facets of my life,'' he said in a news conference broadcast live on Spanish radio.

The decision to retire will be a disappointment to Indurain's Spanish fans, who revere him and consider him possibly the country's greatest-ever sportsman.

Indurain regarded as Spain's greatest sportsman

Miguel Indurain, who announced his retirement on Thursday, was rated by many Spanish fans as their country's greatest-ever sportsman.

The burly Spaniaird became the first rider ever to win the Tour de France in five consecutive years, from 1991 to 1995, and his career also included two wins in the Giro d'Italia and an Olympic gold medal.

Although he failed to win an unprecedented sixth Tour de France, finishing a modest 11th in the 1996 race, Indurain bounced back to take Olympic gold in the time-trial in Atlanta.

His failure in the Vuelta de Espana (Tour of Spain) a few weeks later was, with hindsight, predictable.

Indurain had not raced his home tour since 1991, fearing its tough schedule cut across other priorities.

But in 1996, under pressure from sponsors, Indurain relented, only to pay the cost on day 13 when he pulled out in a testing mountain stage after losing touch with his big-name contemporaries.

Many thought that might be the end of the line but Indurain kept cycling fans guessing until Thursday.

The Spaniard, whose contract with the Banesto team ran out on Tuesday, joined the team originally as a support rider for his compatriot and 1988 Tour de France winner Pedro Delgado.

But he emerged from Delgado's shadow to take second place in the 1991 Vuelta and shot to prominence later that season in the Tour de France.

An epic break-away in the important Pyrenees stage, which destroyed reigning champion Greg Lemond and the rest of the field, was the prelude to the first of his Tour de France successes.

Indurain produced impressive time-trial performances which became his trademark in five extraordinary years in which his command of the Tour was rarely challenged.

The absence of important time-trials in the Giro d'Italia one year led the Spanish press to accuse organisers of creating an 'anti-Indurain itinerary'. If that was the plan, it failed. Indurain won two Giros, showing solidity in the mountains and a growing tactical astuteness.

Doctors were amazed by Indurain's extraordinary lung capacity, characterised by a resting heart rate of around 30 beats per minute, a lung capacity of eight litres and a heart capable of pumping 50 litres of blood per minute for hours at a time.

In the mountain stages of the Tour de France, Indurain could take his pulse rate up to 150 beats per minute and drop it back to 60 on the descent within half a minute.

Indurain, unspoiled champion

Miguel Indurain free-wheeled out of cycle racing as uncomplicated and serene as the day he first turned a pedal.

Although he has appeared to take over cycling in recent years it has never taken him over. As he once said: ``I am proud of what I have done but you must keep a perspective. It's just a bicycle race after all.''

The last six years of his career have centred on winning that bicycle race -- the Tour de France. Five times he has obliged his devotees but last year they had to settle for a consolation -- an Olympic gold rather than an unprecedented sixth Tour victory.

At his dominant best the farmer's son from Villava, near Pamplona, was untouchable in races against the clock. That was how his Tour triumphs were founded. But the ticking clock finally caught up with the 32-year-old from Navarre.

Indurain leaves as one of only four men who have won five Tours de France. But last July Spain had a dream -- fervently they wanted their man to stand alone with six triumphs.

By the time the race reached his home region the yellow jersey of Tour leader was around the shoulders of Denmark's Bjarne Riis. Skilful stage-managing brought the Tour to Pamplona for the final crucial days but Riis had already struck.

Tears filled Indurain's eyes as he stood on the Pamplona podium his arm raised by the conquering Riis -- emotion was never far away from the seemingly imperturbable Spaniard that day as his fans chanted and sung his name.

Banners proclaimed ``Five is Enough'' and ``You are always the greatest.'' It was the fiesta of Saint Fermin where young men try to outrun the bulls in the streets of Pamplona's old town.

But Indurain was to save his final charge for Atlanta where he would become the first to win the Olympic time-trial gold.

The final dream had come true. ``I never believed that I would get a second chance at the Olympics,'' said the man who 12 years previously had been a wide-eyed youth at the Los Angeles Games.

He might have appeared in Los Angeles as a runner. He was after all the 400 metres champion of Navarre. But it was the hunger of a fast-growing lad that steered Indurain into cycling.

When the organiser of a race in his home town announced: ``There is a sandwich and a drink for all who finish,'' 11-year-old Mig was hooked.

Dad had bought him a bike to ride between the farmhouse and the fields, and the lanky Indurain was soon spotted.

Once Jose Miguel Echavarri became his manager, Indurain was set for the top under the careful guidance of a man he saw as his second father.

Echavarri lived for Indurain. ``He is a lord. Eddy Merckx would grind and humble his rivals but Miguel is considerate and does not rule in such a fashion.''

The result of their partnership produced respect rather than fear from their rivals.

If ever Indurain was hurting it was not apparent. But he can recall some nervous moments. He once rode 25 kilometres through the mountains with a double fracture of his wrist and remembers racing into Brussels in heavy rain, his biggest fear.

``I was riding blind. It was pure guesswork where I was going. I feared I might hit the kerb, and anyway I lose 50 percent of my potential if it is cold or it rains.''

With two kilometres to go to the finish on an Alpine climb, he confessed later: ``I suddenly died and could go no further but I made it to the finish.

``Everyone tells me that I never look as if I am suffering but when I see videos of the races I always remember what I had to endure.''

Because of his racing exploits Indurain has been called extra-terrestial. But no-one in the racing pack is more down-to-earth.

On the brink of winning his first Tour he phoned his mother, Isabella -- not to share the good news but to find out if the barley had been harvested.

For one who loves a simple life, he has survived 10 Tours unmarked by all the hype. Streets have been named after him, a hymn of praise composed in his honour and fiestas celebrated his victories.

The fans will miss him. So too will Spanish TV. His successes sent the July ratings soaring. His departure will leave a gap in Spanish sport, where he once earned more votes than Seve Ballesteros in the Sportsman of the Year poll.

Abraham Olano may be seen as a successor of sorts but Olano will remember sorely that when he beat Indurain for the 1995 world road-race title in Colombia, he was insulted in the streets of San Sebastian for daring to beat ``the immense Miguel.'' Indurain will always reign in the hearts of Spain.

No clear successor to Indurain

The departure of Miguel Indurain has come too late for most of the long-suffering pretenders to his Tour de France throne, who are themselves heading into their final years in cycling.

The Tour is verging on a new era with the announcement on Thursday that Indurain will retire but there are few clear signs of an heir apparent.

Bjarne Riis was 32 when he ended El Conquistador's run at five victories last July -- the same age as Indurain, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault, all five-time winners, when they retired.

The patient Dane had spent most of his career working for other contenders such as Laurent Fignon, the French winner of the Tours of 1983 and '84.

Of those who have seriously challenged Indurain during his five triumphs only Alex Zuelle is under 30 but the Swiss, second in 1995, has a record of inconsistency.

His compatriot Tony Rominger, second in 1993, and Latvian Piotr Ugrumov, 1994 runner-up, will be 36 this year. Italians Gianni Bugno (1991) and Claudio Chiappucci (1992) are respectively 33 and 34 in February.

A new name excited Tour followers last year with the emergence of Riis's team mate Jan Ullrich.

The German was an effective contributor to the Dane's success and finished second, one minute 41 seconds behind Riis in Paris, crowning his first Tour by beating Indurain in the final time trial.

Riis broke new ground as Denmark's first Tour winner. Now those in the know are tipping Ullrich to make it a first for Germany.

Walter Godefroot, his Belgian team manager, fired by Ullrich's remarkable debut at 22, said: ``He has all the talents and now with the right preparation he can win it.''

Indurain too was impressed. ``He is sure to win a Tour, perhaps several. He has been so impressive especially as he has been helping Riis to win.''

Indurain's first Tour in 1985 ended after four days on the orders of his manager, Jose Miguel Echavarri, who carefully weaned the Spaniard on to the event. He went 12 days the next year and won his first stage at Cauterets five years after his debut.

Ullrich, who bloomed in the full heat of the battle for the leader's yellow jersey, could wilt under the new pressure of being a rated contender in 1997.

That is where skilful management, coupled with the kind of patience shown by Echavarri, is crucial to the German who was a world amateur road racing champion when he was 19.

France, whose last Tour triumph was in 1985 with Hinault, once more look to Laurent Jalabert and Richard Virenque. Spain will hope that Abraham Olano, almost 27, might take over.

But the implaccable Indurain will be a hard act to follow.